It has been 8 years since pwhy began and it has been 8 years since I have spent almost every waking moment worrying about funding and devising ways to meet the monthly requirement to keep project why alive.
Right from day one I knew that we had to one day become self sustainable though one did not quite know how this would be achieved. Along the way we tried out a plethora of ideas, each one seeming to be at the some time or the other the right one! We embarked on many ideas from pots and bags to bio diesel plant nurseries via chocolates. But each though successfully implemented never met the required target of sustainability.
And as each idea failed, the saga of funding became more demanding as demands increased each day. It became a real challenge to find the required amount and it was anever ending race that I still run. Some time back, one struck upon the idea of hospitality as a possible sustainability option and though the idea was daunting, it seemed to be one that refused to go away, no matter which way we looked at it.
As luck would have it, a volunteer came by project why last month and was to become a catalyst in our quest for sustainability. Barbara was not only a dynamic volunter but turned out to be the pioneer of social entreprise in the UK. As we got to know each other better and shared thoughts and dreams, she introduced me to the idea of social enterprise and showed me how our idea of planet why fitted within it. It was heartwarming to feel that one was one the right rack and that panet why was actually a social enterprise.
This of course strengthened our resolve to see that planet why becomes a reality.
The recent court decision to compress pre-primary classes – aka nursery and KG – into one year seems bewildering. True that they have raised the nursery age to 4 but knowing the pressure a child has to deal with once in class I, one year of preparation seems very insufficient.
At pwhy we have been running a pre-school unit for over 7 years with children between the age of 1 to 5. Initially the whole class was held in a big room with out desks and chairs and children were taught through play and creative means. However we soon realised that the transition to a government school class I was difficult as the tiny tots found themselves in an alien world when faced with desks, chairs and blackboards. That is why we began our prep class where children are taught pre-primary skills in an informal and easy way.
Informal play schools or groups do not prepare children for what awaits them in schools and one year is too little to prepare for this whole new experience. The module of nursery and KG seemed a good way to slowly break in the child, without having her or him lose its creativity.
The Indian school system is one that puts undue pressure on young minds and the mark based system that ensues promotes unhealthy competition. It is heartwarming to see that pre school education is now being debated in courts, but one hopes that the interest of tender minds remains the centre point of all debate and decisions.
The recent demolition of the Lohar basti is a harbinger of days to come. We have, over the past five years, witnessed many a demolition drive of this very basti. Bulldozers came, tenements were brought down, but each time they were rebuilt as money changed hands and eyes turned away. But this time was to be the right one as no one was allowed to rebuild their destroyed homes and in spite of the fact that the families doggedly remained in situ for two days, braving rain and sun, they ultimately realised the inevitable fact that after thirty years they were once again homeless.
Demolitions and sealing drives have become commonplace as one has seen over the years and each til date end in some sort of reprieve or the other. However the raising of the Lohar basti proves that the writing is an the all and that sooner or later many of the slums we work in will face the bulldozer.
With the raising of the Lohar basti we have lost one primary centre and we too feel somewhat orphaned though we knew this day would dawn and I had tried to prepare ourselves for it, albeit unconvincingly. But life has to go on and we need to remember that there many children who still need us.
So once again we had to make a course correction and as luck would have we were still on the lookout for a place for our women’s home. So instead of finding a place to house a creche and activities for women, we have decided to also include a primary outreach. We have been able to find a place in Madanpur Khader, a village in South Delhi near a slum resettlement colony and will be opening a new centre there very soon.
So a new journey begins and with it new challenges. But we will miss our Lohar children and their free spirit.
The will it; won’t it game that has now been played for years at end came to a final closure for the Lohar camp next to the Kalkaji bus depot. Yesterday the small basti of thirty odd tenements was finally raised to the ground to make way for the much awaited metro.
This basti has been in existence for over thirty years and has withstood many a demolition drive, as each time a few hard earned rupees bought the inabitants the right to rebuild their ramshackle homes. Whereas other slums managed to once again get a one year reprieve from demolition as a pre-election sop, this basti did not as the metro is part of the 2010 target when our capital city needs to shine for the much heralded sports fiesta.
What was destroyed yesterday was not just thirty rickety structures but the hopes and dreams of over 200 souls. This basti has tiny babies, school going children, men and women who earn their living within the area and old people who wait for another morrow. Like all nomadic tribes they too were promised permanent homes after India acceded to Independence and they gave up their roaming lives in the hope of seeing that pledge fulfilled. These 1000 odd families have been residents of Delhi for more than 50 years and though millions who came after them are today settled, they still live on the edges of roads and amidst the fumes of the growing vehicle population.
Thanks to greedy and wily politicians they have got ration cards and voter’s identity cards and their illegal structures even had a postal address making them true citizens of the capital. But yesterday their tiny vote bank was outweighed by larger interests and they were left to fend for themselves in a city that had suddenly become hostile.
They will survive I know it, as nomadic tribes have a spirit of their own but this little unit will now be probably be scattered across town and we will lose the lovely children who we taught for over 7 years now. And learn they did as tow of our most committed teachers – sanjay and Vicky – are from this very basti! Wonder whether they will still be able to come to pwhy.
The destruction of the Lohar basti of Kalkaji brings forth once again the burning issue of habitat for the poor. There is seems to be no real policy in this matter and ad hocism reigns. One has seen the multitude of recent scams where land for slum dwellers has been hijacked with impunity by mafia type operations. Slums that have been in existence for decades due to corrupt minions now face the danger of being demolished but there seems to be no alternative offered. Just short reprieves doled out to meet political agendas.
One wonders how it will it all end.
All one can say today is that we will miss our Lohar friends.
In her bright school uniform and sporting a sparkling smile she looks just line another school girl. However if you look at her again you see her little chest rising at an unnatural pace and realise that she can barely breathe. She has a hole in her heart and was what is know as a blue baby at birth.
Her father drives a rickshaw he does not own and drinks most of what he earns. She has two siblings and after paying the whopping 800 Rs for a tiny room there is not much left to eat. A visit to a nearby private hospital resulted to the family being told that a huge sum of money would be needed to repair the congenital defect. For this little family the road ended.
Soni dropped by pwhy one hot afternoon and somehow we all fell under her spell. Once again the God of small things had wowen his magic as some visitors from another world were also there. The impossible became possible as they decided to help Soni and sponsor her surgery.
There is still a long way to go, but we know that this little girl will have a future.